November 22, 2004
Those desperate enough to consider moving to Canada to escape a nation headed by George W. Bush may want to consider an easier option that could deny Bush’s Republican successor the presidency: moving to Iowa.
We spent upwards of $300 million trying to elect John Kerry ($241 million through the campaign, another $80 million through other organizations). We turned out every anti-Bush voter we could find. But there weren’t enough pro-Kerry voters to put Kerry over the top. The majority of Americans said the country was headed in the wrong direction, but a majority of voters, or at least something close to it, voted for the incumbent. We didn’t offer people a real choice. Kerry was a lousy candidate.
Both candidates supported an illegal war, corporate trade policies, private health insurance, the war on drugs, an ever-growing Pentagon, and an expanding prison industry. Kerry played to the Republican base, hunted ducks, and packed his stages with veterans, but he lost the election to rural voters, religious voters, and veterans, because they were Bush’s base.
The Democratic base – urban voters, the less religious, the non-veterans, working people (all majority groups), plus racial minorities – voted for Kerry, but not with large enough turnout or by a wide enough margin. Why? Because he was not our candidate. Kerry was the candidate of 100,000 mostly white, rural, church-going Iowans.
We would not have had such an uphill struggle in this election, and the heart-felt and tireless labor of hundreds of thousands of us would not have gone to waste, if the Democrats had had a candidate, if the candidate of urban America had not been chosen by 100,000 Iowans, residents of a state that then voted for Bush.
But here’s the good news. If you become a resident of Iowa and register to vote 10 days before the next Iowa caucuses, and agree not to vote anywhere else, you can nominate the next Democratic candidate for president. If you move there earlier, you can help influence some of your fellow Iowans.
Does it sound like I’m putting down Iowans or proposing something undemocratic? I beg to differ. To begin with, I’m not suggesting that any other state would necessarily have done a better job than Iowa. The reason that only the first state counts is the same as the reason why Iowa got it wrong: uninformed obedience to the media and a confusion of the role of citizen with the role of pundit. After Iowa, the next 49 states, with very few exceptions, obeyed the media’s command to vote for the candidate possessing an entirely mythical substance called “momentum.” Similarly, Iowans – conceiving of themselves as media-informed political strategists – voted for the candidate possessing a fictional “electability.” What we need in Iowa are not just thousands of residents of safely blue states and of isolated blue cities in hopelessly red wastelands. We need activists and educators in media-rebellion.
The Democratic party leadership will always obey the media’s demand to act more and more Republican. What we need is a movement in Iowa to reinterpret this dictum. Republicans force candidates to adopt their supporters’ platform or face opposition from within. Democrats tell themselves that their candidates’ platforms are “viable” and “electable.” We must instead – indeed — act like Republicans. We know that the majority of Americans favor single-payer health care, less corporate influence in government, protecting Social Security, correcting the minimum wage, investing in education, taxing the wealthy and corporations, and addressing global warming. We know that the VAST majority of Democrats favor these things. Why should we let the media tell us that the most popular positions are not “electable”? And why should we do so election after election, even as the “electable” candidate consistently fails to get elected?
(And please don’t mention that guy from Arkansas who cost us the House, the Senate, and the state houses, because Perot spoiled an election for him, so that he could destroy welfare, pass NAFTA, and hand us the Telecom. Act that created the media giants that now push our people around and twist their thinking away from democracy.)
Is it undemocratic to move some thousands of well-informed citizen activists to Iowa? I would argue that is more democratic than what we now have. One state chooses for the other 49. Bribery goes by the name of campaign finance, which we periodically “reform.” An anti-democratic electoral college controls the general election and favors rural states. A lack of instant runoff voting or proportional representation shuts out third parties. And the Iowa caucus goers do not look like America. If we were to bring representatives of the other 49 states, and various racial and cultural groups, into Iowa, we might make it more representative of America. The Democratic party is unlikely to take away Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status. Just ask the Washington D.C. City Council. And if a D.C. first-in-the-nation primary is taken seriously, our job will be easier. African Americans are already better voters.
We also might make Iowa a blue state, and even a model blue state. After all, we are currently shut out of national politics. We need to create a few model blue states with universal health care, a living wage, paid family and vacation leave, free preschool and college, protected natural resources. We need to show the red states what they’re missing. Why not include Iowa in this project? Why not organize the Iowa workforce, make Iowa a focus of a reborn labor movement following the AFL-CIO convention in Chicago next July?
We need a major effort to educate Iowans and import new Iowans. The cost of this is a drop in the bucket compared to what it takes to run a doomed phony-Republican against a real Republican candidate. We need to start voter registration in Iowa now. And we can begin this project on a volunteer basis. Those of you headed to Canada: please take a look at Iowa.